Montel Williams, PTSD and TBI From Auto Accidents

New hope from technological advances.

Posted Sep 25, 2017

I just returned from the fall conference of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan which was truly an amazing conference. I made many wonderful connections and learned a lot of new things about brain injuries and our health care delivery system from some of Michigan’s top neurologists, psychologists and case managers, and most of all, from the people who have sustained brain injuries. I gave a lecture on individual and group psychotherapy for auto accident survivors with posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries which about 155 people attended. Sleep deprived and somewhat dehydrated, I was disappointed with my performance, but hope the content will be of help to other providers working with patients who suffer co-morbid PTSD and TBI along with a host of other common co-morbid conditions resulting from auto accidents. With respect to the issue of co-morbidity, as I have written about previously, I believe a designation of vehicular trauma syndrome would help to focus the discussion.  

One of the most frequently asked diagnostic questions has to deal with differentiating PTSD from TBI. Some clinicians feel the differentiation is overly simplistic since there is significant cross-over between the two conditions both structurally and functionally. I find the work of Daniel Amen, M.D., fascinating. He has published a major study in which he feels he can differentiate between PTSD and TBI based on SPECT scans. I am not sure why SPECT scans are not more widely used, but in Michigan I have never seen an auto accident patient who has received one.

I also met Montel Williams who was a keynote speaker at the event. His speech was amazing and I wish everyone had the opportunity to hear his message. I believe many of you may have that opportunity as a new technology is on the path that he has been using with great success to treat his MS. When the technology, still in clinical trials, is cleared by the FDA, Montel will be free to speak publicly about it which I am certain he will do in a really big way. I wonder if the technology might be repetitive deep transcranial magnetic stimulation via an H-coil device?

Another keynote speaker at the conference, Tiana Tozer, emphasized in her inspiring speech that it is persistence that wins the day. Tiana talked about the experience of recovering from a horrible car accident that left her in a wheelchair. Her courageous, persistent struggles to regain her functioning led her to live an incredible life of accomplishments and service. 

The conference also helped clarify the message I want to get out to the public. It is vital that everyone understands how many lives are being destroyed from auto accidents. Many of the accidents could be prevented by correcting human behaviors. But as humans, we seem incapable of effectively monitoring ourselves. The effects of our errors are life-changing for millions of people who live with the physical and psychological consequences of driving while fatigued, intoxicated, distracted, and medicated. 

I believe the effects of millions of auto accidents has fueled a major national drug problem. The prescription drug epidemic is alive and well in America. Last year 52.000 died from opiate overdoses. Over 40,200 died from auto accidents and millions were injured. Yet, these grim statistics are not enough to change our behaviors. 

As a species, we humans need help. The auto manufacturing and AI companies are pouring billions into assistive technology in the march to total self-driving cars. I see a future where people will be able to drive a non-autonomous vehicle on a special track after they have been screened and signed the appropriate legal wavers. 

We have come a long way since the invention of the automobile. When my father first drove, a driver’s license was not required. He was 12. He later rolled the car over and crushed his head between the door and the ground. He survived but told how blood was squirting out of his left eye. It took him months to recover and he was left with some cognitive compromise.

We are on the edge of a new revolution in transportation that will center on self-driving vehicles. Trauma psychologists of the future may have little work to do with victims of auto accidents because they may be few and far between. Let’s hope so, and let’s get ready to enjoy the ride!